Groombridge Place by steam train
- Credit: Darryl Churcher Photography
If you're looking for something to do with kids over the school holidays (and - if you've got children in your life - aren't we all?) there's a brilliant way of combining two particularly delightful activities. Take the Spa Valley Railway steam train from Tunbridge Wells West for a delightfully nostalgic trip, sinking into plush seats as you wave at all those you pass en route. Spa Valley Railway is run entirely by volunteers who are only too happy to share their enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, these old engines and how they work. Smaller children just love the gentle puff of the engines and the toot of the whistle - and they can befriend the teddy bears that they'll find on board - a lovely touch. Then after a journey of a short ten minutes, alight at Groombridge station. Stop for an ice-cream here, and perhaps eat en route to Groombridge Place, a 15-minute easy walk away. The mellow red-brick facade of the moat-surrounded 17th-century house here (not open to the public) may be familiar to film buffs: it features as Bennett's home in the 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, and the lovely grounds feature a secret walled area, ponds and fountains, a giant chess set and - perhaps as one might expect in this elegant setting - peacocks on the lawns.
But what will really appeal to children is the Crusoe's World playground, complete with tree houses and watchtowers in the woods (with a barbecue on the go, as one of the eating options here, during summer weekends), and the Enchanted Forest, where there are swings - including a giant one - walkways and a zip wire for older children, too.
Twice-daily Bird of Prey displays are another brilliant attraction - owls and hawks sweep close overhead, delighting the outdoor-seated audience and with plenty of chance to take great photos. There's the chance to spot the resident zedonk - a cross between a zebra and a donkey - too.
You could easily spend a whole day at Groombridge, and we think it's excellent value for money and we think it's really good value at just £25 for a family of four (one of whom needs to be aged under 12). Just be sure to check timings so you don't miss the last Spa Valley Railway train back to Tunbridge Wells - and a family return ticket (allowing you to stop at any of the stations on the short route) will cost you £30. Book in advance to take advantage of the cheapest fares at spavalleyrailway.co.uk